Chasing the 2020 Perseid Meteor Shower

Milky Way over Bond Falls with a dash of Perseids by Sathya

“I am beginning to love the stars too fondly to be fearful of the night.”
~Sathya R.

EarthSky explains that the annual Perseid meteor shower is one of the most beloved meteor showers of the year, especially in the Northern Hemisphere, where the shower peaks on warm summer nights:

No matter where you live worldwide, the 2020 Perseid meteor shower will probably produce the greatest number of meteors on the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13. On the peak mornings in 2020, the moon will be at or slightly past its last quarter phase, so moonlight will somewhat mar this year’s production. Still, there are some ways you can minimize the moon and optimize your chances for a good display of Perseids this year. Here are some thoughts:

The Perseids tend to be bright, and a good percentage of them should be able to overcome the moonlight. Who knows? You still might see up to 40 to 50 meteors per hour at the shower’s peak, even in the light of a bright moon. Will you see over 100 per hour, as in some years? Not likely. Still …

Try to watch after midnight but before moonrise. If fortune smiles upon you, the evening hours might offer you an earthgrazer – a looooong, slow, colorful meteor traveling horizontally across the evening sky. Earthgrazer meteors are rare but memorable. Perseid earthgrazers appear before midnight, when the radiant point of the shower is close to the horizon.

Watch in moonlight, but place yourself in the moon’s shadow.

Consider watching after the peak. People tend to focus on the peak mornings of meteor showers, and that’s entirely appropriate. But meteors in annual showers – which come from streams of debris left behind in space by comets – typically last weeks, not days. Perseid meteors have been streaking across our skies since around July 17. We’ll see Perseids for 10 days or so after the peak mornings on August 11, 12 and 13, though at considerably reduced numbers. Yet, each day as the moon wanes in the morning sky, less moonlight will obtrude on the show. Starting on or around August 17, moon-free skies reign all night long.

You can read about the taking of this photo & purchase a print from Sathya in Chasing the Perseids at his blog Like the Ocean & see more in his awesome Showcase album on Flickr.

There’s more Bond Falls & more Perseids at Michigan in Pictures.

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Perseid Explosion at Day Farm

Definitely watch Ken’s Perseid video at the end!

D H Day Farm ... perseid meteor shower

D H Day Farm … perseid meteor shower, photo by Ken Scott

I’ve shared this before, but Space.com has an interesting story about how the upcoming Perseid Meteor shower (peak August 11-13) came to be known as “The Tears of St. Lawrence” and also some of the science behind this annual August sky show:

Laurentius, a Christian deacon, is said to have been martyred by the Romans in 258 AD on an iron outdoor stove. It was in the midst of this torture that Laurentius cried out: “I am already roasted on one side and, if thou wouldst have me well cooked, it is time to turn me on the other.”

The saint’s death was commemorated on his feast day, Aug. 10. King Phillip II of Spain built his monastery place the “Escorial,” on the plan of the holy gridiron. And the abundance of shooting stars seen annually between approximately Aug. 8 and 14 have come to be known as St. Lawrence’s “fiery tears.”

…We know today that these meteors are actually the dross of the Swift-Tuttle comet. Discovered back in 1862, this comet takes approximately 130 years to circle the Sun. With each pass, it leaves fresh debris — mostly the size of sand grains with a few peas and marbles tossed in.

Every year during mid-August, when the Earth passes close to the orbit of Swift-Tuttle, the bits and pieces ram into our atmosphere at approximately 37 miles per second (60 kps) and create bright streaks of light.

Read on for more including diagrams and viewing tips.

Ken Scott captured these Perseid meteors last August over a 2 1/2 hour period at the D.H. Day Farm in the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore. He says that the barn is lit by rogue lightning and that this is a composite of many meteor images, where each photo is rotated around the north star so that the ‘point of origin’ of the shower can be seen better. He understands it visually but not scientifically – anyone have a simple explanation for him?

View his photo bigger, see more in his Skies Above slideshow, and view and purchase his work at kenscottphotography.com.

Perseid Meteor Composite

Perseid Meteor Composite over Cathead Point

Perseid Meteors … over Cathead Point, photo by Ken Scott

The annual Perseid Meteor Shower peaks August 11-13 and is the closest thing to a sure thing in when you’re talking meteor showers. The Perseids kick out 10+ meteors per hour at peak, and the darker your setting, the more you will see. EarthSky has detailed tips & diagrams about this summer favorite in Everything you need to know: Perseid meteor shower:

Start watching in the second week of August, when the Delta Aquarid meteor shower is rambling along steadily, reliably producing meteors each night. Then keep watching in the second week of August, when the Perseids are rising to a peak. The Perseid shower is known to rise gradually to a peak, then fall off rapidly afterwards. In early August (and even through the peak nights), you’ll see them combine with meteors from the Delta Aquarid shower. Overall, the meteors will be increasing in number from early August onward, and better yet, the moonlight will diminish until the new moon on August 14, 2015.

Don’t rule out early evenings. As a general rule, the Perseid meteors tend to be few and far between at nightfall and early evening. Yet, if fortune smiles upon you, you could catch an earthgrazer – a looooong, slow, colorful meteor traveling horizontally across the evening sky. Earthgrazer meteors are rare but most exciting and memorable, if you happen to spot one. Perseid earthgrazers can only appear at early to mid-evening, when the radiant point of the shower is close to the horizon.

As evening deepens into late night, and the meteor shower radiant climbs higher in the sky, more and more Perseid meteors streak the nighttime. The meteors don’t really start to pick up steam until after midnight, and usually don’t bombard the sky most abundantly until the wee hours before dawn. You may see 50 or so meteors per hour in a dark sky.

An open sky is essential because these meteors fly across the sky in many different directions and in front of numerous constellations. If you trace the paths of the Perseid meteors backward, you’d find they come from a point in front of the constellation Perseus. But once again, you don’t need to know Perseus or any other constellation to watch this or any meteor shower.

Read on at EarthSky for lots more and I hope you get a chance to enjoy Michigan after dark this week – it’s worth it!!

View Ken’s August 2012 composite of 8 meteors taken over an hour at the Grand Traverse Lighthouse on Cathead Bay bigger, see more in his massive Skies Above slideshow and head over to Ken Scott Photography on Facebook for a Perseids photo from last night!

PS: You can see a timelapse clip from this night on YouTube too!

2014 Perseid Meteor Shower

Sleeping Bear Persied

Sleeping Bear Perseids, photo by Kenneth Snyder

Without question the best meteor shower of the summer in Michigan is the Perseids, EarthSky’s Everything you need to know about the Perseid Meteor Shower has (predictably) all kinds of details and diagrams to help you get the most out of this annual display. The most important thing is to start watching now as the August supermoon is full this weekend.

Every year, from around July 17 to August 24, our planet Earth crosses the orbital path of Comet Swift-Tuttle, the parent of the Perseid meteor shower. Debris from this comet litters the comet’s orbit, but we don’t really get into the thick of the comet rubble until after the first week of August. The bits and pieces from Comet Swift-Tuttle slam into the Earth’s upper atmosphere at some 210,000 kilometers (130,000 miles) per hour, lighting up the nighttime with fast-moving Perseid meteors. If our planet happens to pass through an unusually dense clump of meteoroids – comet rubble – we’ll see an elevated number of meteors.

…The swift-moving and often bright Perseid meteors frequently leave persistent trains – ionized gas trails lasting for a few moments after the meteor has already gone. Watch for these meteors to streak the nighttime in front of the age-old, lore-laden constellations from late night until dawn as we approach the second weekend in August. The Perseids should put out a few dozen meteors per hour in the wee hours of the mornings of August 11, 12 and 13.

Read on for lots more.

View his photo big as the sky and see more in his Sleeping Bear Dunes slideshow.

More meteors on Michigan in Pictures!